Projected starters – Inside linebacker
Senior; 6’3″ 252 lbs; Nashville, Tenn.
After 79 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery last year, Daniel Bituli is a proven starter for Tennessee football at inside linebacker this year. He is one player we are certain can play all four positions for the Vols given his size.
On top of that, Bituli was named the most improved defensive player in the spring. As a result, his potential is through the roof entering his senior year. He should be the heart and the leader of the Vols’ defense given all this, so of course he’s our top inside linebacker.
Junior; 6’0″ 224 lbs; Fort Myers, Fla.
Darrin Kirkland Jr. being forced to retire due to injury has opened up this other spot at inside linebacker, and to be honest, it’s wide open. Jeremy Pruitt is likely to give lots of looks to the new recruits when fall camp begins.
However, Shanon Reid was the standout player in the spring. So, for now, he still looks like the starter. Just watch out for a ton of competition here over the next month. Reid’s love from Pruitt though puts him here.
Projected starters – Outside linebacker
Redshirt senior; 6’4″ 255 lbs; Hopewell, Va.
While Daniel Bituli should be the top defensive player for Tennessee football, Darrell Taylor should be the breakout star. He showed flashes last year with eight sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. The problem was those stats largely came from three games.
Pruitt rightly said at SEC Media Days that Taylor needs to do it throughout the season. If he does that, he could become the best defender in the nation when it comes to stats. As the only proven edger rusher on the roster right now, he is clearly the top outside linebacker this year.
Junior; 6’3″ 246 lbs; Miami, Fla.
Like Taylor, Deandre Johnson was a defensive end who moved to outside linebacker in Pruitt’s 3-4 system. He emerged as the other starter alongside Taylor after the season-ending injury to Jonathan Kongbo last year.
Johnson had a decent season with three tackles for a loss and two sacks. This year, with a full season, he has the chance to become a major force and help take the focus off Taylor. He’ll have pressure behind him, like Shanon Reid, but for now, he’s the No. 2 guy here.